Flash Fiction: Changeling

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I dream deep, sounds coming to me like echoes through water. There’s no one but Poseidon to know if my visions are from his cousin Hypnos or if the bubbles frothing from my mouth are my dying gasps. I want to believe the first, but I’m terrified it’s the latter.

I drag in the taste of salt. It burbles up my nose, burns my sinuses. My chest hurts. Darkness claws at me with a claustrophobic grip. “Breathe, it says. “Breathe.”

The flicker of a tail, a fin, the softness of silk against my face. So it’s not darkness that whispers to me, after all. Death has the strangely soft voice of a woman.

“Breathe,” she says again.

Fingers press against my mouth. Self-preservation makes me fight against them. My instinctual struggles remind me that it is not Hypnos who has me because I hadn’t chosen medication as my catalyst for change. Sleeping pills would have been so much easier. I’d be unconscious now, peacefully awaiting the slip over into the next realm if I’d gone that route. Quiet. Maybe a soft white light to greet me.

My daughter’s voice presses in to my thoughts then, a sonar blip matching the beat of my dying heart, a residue of time and space and a world apart from this one: “Daddy, where did Momma go?”

Momma’s gone to heaven, I should have told her. But then I would have had to explain heaven. I’d have had to explain death and nothingness. The hopelessness of the grave: too much for a three-year-old.

“Momma’s gone back to the sea, Babe. Gone back to the sea.”

“The sea?”

“Yes. You know the seals we see sunning on the big rock at the beach?”

A nod. A reflective smile.

“Momma’s one of them. She gave up the sea to have you and be with me. But we only got to keep her for a short time. She needs the water to live.”

Needs the water to live like I needed her to live, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Instead, after months of trying to go through the motions of living, I chose transformation. Left my baby with her mortal grandmother and filled my pockets with rocks and jumped off the pier.

“Breathe,” The voice comes again, pulling me from memory. The fingers are insistent now; they pull at my lips trying to peel them away from my clenched teeth and let the air inside escape. I feel the jutting hardness of rock against my thighs. The claustrophobia tries to force me, panicked, to the surface.

“Breathe, damn you.”

Hynos. What if it’s just Hypnos, and I’m dreaming, and I take a breath and I wake on my bed—our bed--and I have to suffer another day without her? Another day. Without her.

I strain to open my eyes. The murk of old ocean bed disturbed creates blobs in my vision. Bladderwrack dances in front of me. What if she’s not here? What if it’s death who claims me? Will it be enough for my soul to find peace without her?

I scan the ocean debris for familiar limbs, the slanted eyes, the soft touch. Fingers reach through the murk at me, black webbed fingers and slanted eyes come into focus, peer into mine from a face with whiskers and pointed nose. It doesn’t matter that the face is not the same. It’s still her. I know it is.

And that’s all that matters.

I stretch open my lungs, gasping, to fill them with water.

And I breathe.

-30-

I typically write psychological thrillers but really love playing with flash fiction to court the muse.

 

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